Restaurant Review: David Craig

  • Posted on January 29, 2007 at 12:28 am

On Saturday night, Larry, Amy and I tried out David Craig for Bethesda Restaurant Week. Ever since it opened, I have been dying to go here, but every time we have tried to make a reservation they were already booked. So I was happily surprised when I called last week and got a table for 7 p.m. What’s more, when we arrived, the host actually gave us our choice of tables! That doesn’t happen often in restaurants, does it? (Although the host was not American—he had an unidentifiable British/Australian accent—so maybe he thought that Larry was the Larry King Live.)

The restaurant week menu featured a limited selection of items on their regular menu. But when I asked what the up-charge would be for the butter lettuce, fried green tomatoes, applewood smoked bacon, gorgonzola, pecans, and brown sugar brown butter vinaigrette salad, I was informed by the server that if I wanted that salad I would have to pay full price for it, since it wasn’t on the restaurant week menu. That seemed odd to me.

So for the first course, I ordered the classic Caesar salad (with a giant anchovy! Yay!), choosing not to pay an extra $12 for the other salad. Larry ordered the P.E.I mussels with onion, garlic, hot pepper and a sherry cream sauce, and Amy got the arugula and frisee salad with apple, red beet, goat cheese and roasted beet vinaigrette. All the first courses were excellent. I loved the crispy parmesan wafer on my salad.

For the second course, I ordered the hand cut fettuccine with meat and wild mushroom ragu and cream. It was cooked al dente, and the ragu was flavorful and not too rich. Larry ordered the braised veal cheeks served with parmesan semolina gnocchi, Swiss chard, golden raisins, pinenuts and orange gremolata enriched veal reduction. The meat was very tender, and the parmesan gnocchi was amazing—just like gnocchi should be, little light pillows. However, I thought that the orange reduction just slightly overpowered the delicate flavor of the gnocchi. Amy ordered the wild mushroom and ricotta ravioli—another amazing dish.

For dessert, I ordered the apple crisp with vanilla ice cream. It was delicious, but not spectacular. Amy ordered the vanilla crème brulee, and it although was “ordinary crème brulee”, it was perfectly executed. Larry’s dessert was the best of the three—blood orange pudding cake with blood orange sorbet. This seasonal dessert had amazing flavor and an interesting duality of textures, and it reminded Larry of something he made in his former life as a chef. He has the recipe if anyone is interested.

I will most definitely go back to David Craig. Everything we had was done very well. The only qualms I have were that we seemed a bit rushed—we were done with the three course meal in one hour. But I’m willing to chalk that up to it being restaurant week. And the service seemed a tad below par of what I’d expect, but once again, it could just be a restaurant week. (For instance, they served the main course while one of us had stepped away from the table—they should have waited until we were all seated. And they didn’t clear the bowl of discarded mussel shells from Larry’s first course until after the second course.) I didn’t take any pictures of the food this time, because the lighting was just too dark.

Besides just the great dinner, we had a great time with Amy yesterday. She was the star in our creative projects—she was my model for a little photography shoot, and she and Larry worked for several hours on a top secret project. More details to come later…

Virginia, Meet Bell’s Beer

  • Posted on January 28, 2007 at 10:35 am

The day has finally come.

Bell’s, a craft brewery from Michigan, has long been one of our favorite breweries, but the beer is only available in the Midwest. (rumor has it that Larry Bell, the owner, doesn’t want to sacrifice the quality of his beer in shipments across such long distances.) A few months ago, we began to see Bell’s at restaurants and bars in D.C. and Virginia. Not a huge selection though–just one or two varieties on tap. Could it be, we thought? Is Bell’s finally coming to the East Coast?

Yes, they are! I was thrilled to find that the Whole Foods in Reston, Virginia carries not one, but seven kinds of Bell’s Beer! And the Whole Foods is right next to my gym, so what better way to finish a workout than with a tasty Bell’s Best Brown? (Kind of defeats the purpose, eh.)

If you live in the D.C. area, and you enjoy craft-brewed beers, I highly recommend that you keep your eye out for Bell’s Beer. If you live in the Midwest, well, you already know. Bells Beer in Virginia!

So Long, Sufjan

  • Posted on January 27, 2007 at 11:38 am

We woke up extremely early for a Saturday morning to go to the Kennedy Center to pick up tickets for the Sufjan Stevens show. Sufjan Stevens, an awesome indie-rock musician, is coming to the Kennedy Center on February 5 to commemorate the 10th anniversary of free concerts on the Millennium Stage. So naturally, they were giving away tickets for free.

It was hard enough getting Larry up so early, but we left the house at 7:45 a.m. with our coffee in hand. We did a drive-by of the Kennedy Center, and it didn’t look that crowded. A couple of hundred people, maybe. We saw a couple of sleeping bags and tents, and laughed at those “crazy college kids” who thought it necessary to sleep out in freezing temperatures, just to get tickets. They just did it to say that they did it, we thought.

So we parked in Foggy Bottom and walked to the KC. Sure, we’ll be able to get tickets, no problem—they’re giving away 2,000, after all. Even as we got to the front of the building, we were still optimistic.

Then we turned the corner of the building. The courtyard was FULL of people. Thousands. There was no way we would have gotten tickets had we waited in line. More than half the people there weren’t going to get tickets. So we left.

The Crowd, Waiting for Free Tickets

We talked to these kids, and they had been there since 9 pm the night before. They said that at least a hundred people camped out over night. I really like Sufjan, but not enough to sleep outside for free tickets to one of his concerts.

Kids that Camped Out For The Sufjan Stevens Concert

It was definitely smart of the Kennedy Center to give the tickets away ahead of time, rather than face thousands of people waiting in line the night of the show. But I would have gladly paid money for the tickets. Sufjan, when are you going to come back to D.C.?

The Indianapolis Colts Win! (and it snows!)

  • Posted on January 21, 2007 at 11:26 pm

We spent about six hours at the Rock Bottom today, watching the Bears win, and then watching the first part of the Colts game. We left at half time to watch the rest of the game at home because our butts were starting to hurt. It was tense evening, with lots of emotional ups and downs.

Chicago Wins, Thumbs Up from Larry

The Indianapolis Colts just won the game–they are going to the Superbowl! This is good news for Larry, a huge Colts fan. Also good news for me, because he said he’d be in a bad mood for a week if they lost. And he threatened to take it out on Martin if they lost, so it’s good news for Martin too.

Martin Happy

In other news, it snowed for the first time today! Hi, winter!

First Snow of the Year, Bethesda

Restaurant Review: Mark’s Duck House

  • Posted on January 21, 2007 at 11:05 pm

We ate dinner at Mark’s Duck House in Falls Church, Virginia on Saturday night with our friends, “Steve” and “Peggy” (names changed to protect their identities.) This is an authentic Chinese restaurant, and they are known for their Peking Duck. It’s tucked away in the corner of strip mall off of Route 50, in between a Bolivian bakery and a Vietnamese Pho restaurant. The dining room was filled with Chinese people, always a good sign.

We started with Hot and Sour Soup, which was brought to the table in a big bowl and served individually at the table. It had a thick, flavorful broth, and plenty of mushrooms, bamboo shoots, and pork. It was an excellent start to the meal.

Hot and Sour Soup

As we ate our soup, the waiter walked by our table and showed us “our duck”, shiny and red, selected from the hangers in the front window of the restaurant, with its head still on. A few minutes later, the waiter was back with the duck, only now it was sliced and displayed on a platter. He prepared the duck for us in thin pancakes with plum sauce and scallions. It was AMAZING. The skin was crispy, the meat was rich and succulent, and the juices dripped from our fingers as we ate. Everyone at the table agreed, this was by far the best duck we had ever tasted. I could have eaten quite a few more pancake wraps, but we had more food coming.

Peking Duck, Mark's Duck House

Next the waiter brought us the combination fried rice and the orange beef—both are traditional Americanized Chinese dishes, and both were done exceptionally well.

Orange Beef, Mark's Duck House

Combination Fried Rice, Mark's Duck House

We had ordered the razor clams with garlic and black bean sauce (I saw razor clams on Anthony Bourdain’s Ireland episode and have been dying to try them ever since), but we were informed by the waiter that they were out of razor clams. They substituted the razor clams with regular clams, and the dish did not disappoint. The sauce was salty and rich, and I found complete garlic cloves mixed in with the clams. The clams were perfect—not too chewy, not dirty.

Clams With Black Bean Sauce, Mark's Duck House

We shared two bottles of 2004 Erbacher Honigberg Riesling from Germany (only $20 a bottle! what a steal!) The crispness of the wine complimented the duck especially well.

Erbacher Honigberg Riesling, Mark's Duck House

I think Mark’s is one of my new favorite restaurants—if I lived closer to it, you can bet that I would order take-out at least once a week. The true reason to go is for the duck. And make sure that you have a reservation, otherwise you might be waiting in the small, drafty lobby, staring longingly at the ducks hanging in the windows.

Solitary Peking Duck, Mark's Duck House

Yum, Shrimp and Grits

  • Posted on January 20, 2007 at 12:07 am

We ate this for dinner:

Shrimp, Grits and Sugar Snap Peas

Cajun-style shrimp, cheddar grits and sugar snap peas. Simple (I think, although I’ve never made it) and delicious. And Larry’s grits are way better than the Cracker Barrel’s grits. The key to good grits is making them al dente, not too mushy and not too watery.

Also, check out this cool picture of glow in the dark yo-yos I took tonight:

Yo-Yo Cluster

I’m a New Woman Now, Mickey

  • Posted on January 19, 2007 at 5:03 pm

I got a haircut last week. This isn’t the best picture of me–I’ve got sort of a fake smile, I’m wearing sort of dorky clothes (I took this picture before work one day this week), I’ve got bags under my eyes…but you get the idea. When I’m feeling prettier I will take another picture.

Me, with short hair

(P.S.) Name the movie that the title of this post is quoted in for an extra special prize.

Dancing

  • Posted on January 13, 2007 at 10:40 pm

Here it is, folks: the much awaited, highly anticipated dancing video. Enjoy.

Right in my backyard

  • Posted on January 9, 2007 at 10:37 pm

Larry and I live in Bethesda, one of the safest neighborhoods in the D.C. area. So when I heard about a 24-year old woman being sexually assaulted in an alley less than a block from my house, it made me queasy.

Police say that “the attack was most likely an isolated incident.” You just don’t expect this type of thing in Bethesda, right?

In this video, a local ABC newscast from Monday night, even the reporters seem shocked at the incident, not quite sure how to react to such a violent crime in such a safe, family-friendly neighborhood. And if you watch the video, you can see the back of our apartment building, our local Rock Bottom Brewery, the Lebanese restaurant Bacchus (which is right behind us), and Cafe Europa–quite literally our very own block.

From now on, I think I’ll have Larry pick me up from the metro station if I’m walking home by myself late at night.

Restaurant Review: L’Auberge Chez Francois

  • Posted on January 8, 2007 at 11:34 pm

L'Auberge Chez Francois

Larry and I celebrated our first anniversary at L’Auberge Chez Francois. As I mentioned in my previous post, it was voted “Most Romantic” and “Best Special Occasion” restaurant by the Washingtonian, so we thought it would be a good choice for our own special dinner.
Well, I think the caveat to those awards should have been “…if you’re over 50.” The first words Larry said as we sat down were “we’re too young for this place.”

The décor is Alsatian Kitsch. Definitely authentic old-school French. Excessive use of Christmas lights and garland. But you’re not here for my critique of the decorations, are you?

The company, of course, was delightful. We reminisced about our first year of marriage. I quizzed Larry on his favorite parts:

Best Part about Being Married: Seeing you everyday (good answer.)

Favorite Part of the Past Year: All the vacations we took. Honeymoon is #1, followed by our Canada/New York trip in July and our Outer Banks trip in October tied for second.

Most Memorable Moment from our Wedding: The look on Amy’s face when she took a shot of Wild Turkey 101. (Me: WHAT? What about seeing me walk down the aisle? Larry: but I had already seen you that day! Me: Ok, so then what about the first time you saw me at the State House? What about our vows? Larry: Yeah, yeah, yeah, all those are givens.)

Our meal started off scrumptiously. We enjoyed four kinds of bread, served with butter and a crème fraiche spread with chives and garlic. Then, we were served the amuse bouche–a cheese tart– “compliments of the chef,” which was also very tasty.

For my appetizer, I had the braised veal cheeks with mushrooms and vegetables, served in a tiny cocotte. The meat was tender and succulent, so tender that it practically melted in my mouth. Larry had the bouillabaisse, which had a thick broth and a hint of saffron. I had a spoonful of the broth, and I have to say, it was an authentic Marseille bouillabaisse. Incredible. So far, so good.

Cocotte of braised veal cheeks

Our Roquefort house salads were garlicy (not a bad thing). I do love blue cheese, and Roquefort is one of my favorite blue cheeses. The salads had slices of baked cinnamon apples, raspberries, endive and sprouts. Still doing well.

We cleansed our palettes with an orange sorbet, then we received our main courses. Larry ordered the “choucroute royale”—an alsatian feast with sausages, confit, pheasant, foie gras, pork on sauerkraut cooked with Crémant d’Alsace. It was disappointing—most of the meat was overdone and dry. A boring dish overall, as Larry said. I ordered a seafood dish with lobster, shrimp, scallops, crabmeat and fish in a creamy white sauce. It was ok. The lobster was overdone. Basically, nothing to write home about.

A huge plate of meat

For dessert, I ordered the chocolate soufflé, and Larry ordered the Kougelhopf of soft caramelized meringue and kirsch vanilla ice cream. Now here is where the disappointment really set in. I love dessert, especially French desserts, and soufflé is something I almost never get to enjoy. However, this soufflé had the distinct taste of anise, which I cannot stand. What’s more, the Kougelhopf also tasted like anise! And the tuile cookies and homemade chocolate truffles also tasted like anise! Ack! Ick! Yuck! They like to dump anise in everything here! So disappointing. But by this point, I was so full, I couldn’t have eaten much dessert even if it was anise-free. Larry, on the other hand, likes anise, and he enjoyed all of the desserts. He thought that they were delicious, well executed and in the classic French style. It’s a matter of personal taste.

Kougelhopf

The wine selection was impressive. We ordered two half-bottles: one red, a 2004 Chateauneuf du Pape, and one white, a 2004 Pouilly-Fuisse, to compliment both of our meat and seafood dishes.

Pouilly-Fuisse

Chateauneuf du Pape

Overall, I’d give the restaurant a B. Okay food, exceptional service. Our waiter was very attentive. For example, he didn’t clear Larry’s plate before I had finished eating, which is a pet peeve of mine and a detail of fine service often forgotten in other restaurants. The plates should not be cleared until everyone is finished. They get bonus points for that. It was a special night, but I also don’t think that we’ll be going back anytime in the next, say, 30 years or so.